After two awesome weeks in Phuket hanging out on the beaches and watching glorious neon sunsets, we traveled to the northern foothills of Thailand in Chiang Mai. Our trip happened to fall during Loi Krathong, one of the biggest festivals in Thailand. Loi Krathong is a Buddhist festival where lanterns are released into the night sky to carry off a person’s bad luck. If the lantern disappears from your sight before burning out you’ll have even better fortune.
Our first task of getting to the river during Loi Krathong was difficult. Thousands of people crowded the tiny narrow streets of Chiang Mai, which is only about one square mile. At first, it was a little overwhelming fighting for a spot on the river bank to release an oversized lantern; tourists were getting angry and a little pushy. Rouge lanterns were getting stuck in the surrounding trees and blazing into ash. It was crazy and chaotic – as any famous festival should be. Finally, after lighting our lanterns and sending our bad luck into the atmosphere we headed straight for a rooftop bar to get a better view of the city. Relaxing with our beers in hand on an intimate patio we watched for hours as thousands of bright orange lanterns continuously floated up toward the full moon. It was peaceful and brilliant, far better than being on the crowded river bank.
Our following days were spent exploring the tribal villages, Buddhist temples, and the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. It’s very common when visiting Thailand to visit elephants and bathe them; the key is finding a place that rescues them from poaching and abusive habitats. Sadly, many places still do abuse the animals and fake rehabilitation to attract tourists with big hearts. I do recommend Elephant Jungle Sanctuary if you are looking for a cool up close and personal elephant experience.
Our last morning was spent learning all of the Buddhist things at the temples. We woke up before the sun to catch the monks as they hit the city streets to collect alms (offerings of food) and give blessings to the community. A local woman taught us about the traditions and guided us through the offering process which consists of a monk chant while pouring water into a vessel. Once the monks were finished with the blessing we took the vessel and poured the now blessed water back into the earth. It’s really great how open and happy the Thai people are to teaching foreigners about Buddhism and their culture. After completing alms we stopped at a secluded forest temple for some quiet meditation before touring the large mountain top temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
Although my time in Chiang Mai started out a little more stressful than I had hoped I had a calming sense of peaceful closure as I left. It is a tiny town where a creative hipster vibe meets ancient Buddhist tradition, and so much around each turn to discover. I loved being immersed in the Theravada Buddhist culture and felt that it’s a place I’d like to return one day for a serene meditative retreat from my sensory overloaded American life.
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Documentary Photography | Travel Photography | Chiang Mai Thailand | Joyelan.com